Many of my posts in March included some whining about the machine quilting that I was doing "behind the scenes." I was finally quilting Hen Party. This quilt has 6" snowball blocks made from my collection of chicken-themed fabrics. Many of the blocks were framed around one large chicken. After literally years of creating and dismissing quilting plans for this quilt, I decided to use a bonded batting that only needs quilting every 10", so I wouldn't have to worry about quilting around the chickens inside the blocks. I straight line quilted in the ditch, and free-motioned a little clover motif in each corner:
Some of those first clover motifs were pretty dubious:
That was when I was getting tired at the end of the day, and the weight of the quilt was making things tricky. But, I got better:
I didn't mark anything, first, because I hate marking, and second, because I do like that "freehand doodle" look. So, I'm not going to unpick any of those wobbly ones. And from the back, it looks surprisingly good:
Just ignore the fold lines and loose threads for now!
What I couldn't ignore, though, were the problems with the border. "I'll just straight line quilt a few lines around the border," I thought. "I have mastered straight line quilting," I thought. "Fast and easy," I thought. But strangely, while two sides looked good...
...two sides bunched up terribly:
Whyyyy? I thought I had this figured out when I changed to the pin feed. Somehow the top and bottom layers are feeding through at different speeds, and it must have something to do with the crosswise vs. the lengthwise grain of the backing fabric. But, it is practically ruffled, so it must come out, and that has been taking forever. Once the straight lines are unpicked, I'm going to do a free-motion stipple, which I think will be more forgiving. And at least, after all those clover motifs, I am feeling better about my free motion abilities.
In February, when I was having similar trouble quilting Mod Trips, I said to myself, "this is the last large quilt I am quilting at home." But you know, it turned out well in the end, and everyone liked it, so basking in the glow of success I forgot all the pain! But in March, facing all the same trouble again, I really started to resent the time that quilting was taking from my other projects.
I decided it's finally time to invest in some rental time on a long arm quilting machine. Yesterday I took my Cardinal Stars flimsy to a local long arm dealer that offers rentals. And after about one hour of class time and three hours of quilting time, it is quilted! By me!
On the back here you can see the pantograph I used, Cloud 9. I am not always the biggest fan of pantos, because they can be a little uninspired, but I have to say they are quite forgiving even when you are never right on the line! It is a good way to build your skill and still have a decent result.
On the front, the panto's flow of curves and arcs blends together the blocks and background:
The polyester thread was my biggest hurdle in deciding to try a long arm. (And the money, of course, but I decided to re-allocate my fabric budget to quilting for a while.) I deliberately took these photos to highlight the thread. It is shiny polyester Glide thread, but not this obvious in every light. I can see why longarmers like it, because it is perfectly smooth and even, with no fluff, even after quilting the whole quilt at high speed. I like it better than I expected, and in future, I will have the option of bringing in my own cotton thread.
Now that it is home I cannot believe how much quilting I did, and that it is reasonably good looking to boot! I am sore, but not any more sore than after a day of quilting on my home machine. And, with one day on the long arm I accomplished more than a month of quilting at home!
So yes, I'll be doing that again. For me, the "aha moment" was when I was basting the edge of the quilt before following the panto across the middle. When I baste the edge of a sandwiched quilt on my home machine, it stretches and puckers and slides around and generally tests my patience to the limit. On the frame of the long arm the edge of the fabric doesn't move at all, and it is easy to sew a scant 1/8" from the edge. Everything stays straight. Amazing!
Now I have a list of new things to try on the long arm, which should use up my stack of flimsies, including Collector, It's Warm Inside, Picnic, and Circa 1998. Although, now that I see how easy it is to quilt a large quilt this way, I am once again considering adding a border to Circa 1998 to bring it up to queen size. We'll see how it goes!
(Hen Party, though, I still have to finish at home...)